Oxford’s Ethiopian Pop Up: The night I ate with my hands and didn’t mind!
The Cowley Road is well known for its wide variety of the weird yet wonderful eateries. One particular ‘outside of the box’ eatery is the Ethiopian pop up in the Magic Cafe, down Magdalen Road, somewhere totally new and unheard of. My friend booked a table for a group of us for his Birthday and, everyone was very intrigued by what we would encounter. I must confess I was apprehensive about it all after hearing horror stories about Ethiopian food from my friend who lives and works there; regardless of this I entered the restaurant with an open mind and an empty stomach.
First impressions were good; in fact they were more than good. A friendly face welcomed us at the door, took our £10 for the meal, coffee and dancing and showed us to our table. Straight away we got talking to the people around us and it felt as though everyone was eating together rather than in just groups, which is a very refreshing thing to experience! Overall the atmosphere was very laid back and relaxed. The hosts came around to everyone to say hello which made the evening feel like a dinner party rather than a restaurant. There was a buzz of excitement from those who were looking forward to eating Ethiopian cuisine again to those, like me, who were eagerly anticipating their first bite.
Prior to eating there was an announcement of what the dishes were as well as a ‘how to’ eat them. The food is served as a self service buffet with a selection of 11 dishes, 8 of which were vegan, and are all called something I can’t pronounce such as Key Dorowe and Tekel Gomen en a Denech. Injera is the staple of the meal, not only does it act as a sponge to absorb all the sauce but it is also used as the equivalent of a knife and fork. You tear a piece of injera and use that to scoop up a bit of each dish so you can eat it. Injera is a very acquired taste, it is very very sour, it wasn’t quite to my taste but it was practical and did work well with the richness and saltiness of the other dishes.
To accompany the food there was a bar serving a variety of drinks including beer, wine and juice. We decided to try the Ethiopian wine called Axumite (£12); it’s a red wine served cool and it’s very sweet with a distinctive after taste that none of the group could quite put their finger on. For those less adventurous the other drinks were all very well known recognisable brands.
What was great about this particular pop up restaurant was the whole experience. After dinner traditional Ethiopian coffee was served which was soon followed by traditional dancing and music. Everyone joined in in one way or another; there were no wall flowers or sad faces to be seen. There was also a moment to wish Happy Birthday to any guests there and they were given a small gift as well as being sung Happy Birthday. This was such a lovely, unexpected gesture which made it a extra special for one member of our party whose Birthday it was that day.
It was the little things that made this particular pop up memorable. Although the food was nice it was not quite to my taste and not what I would want to have again, but the warm, welcoming and friendly atmosphere which made it fantastic. I really felt as though I got to experience a slice of Ethiopia and Ethiopian Hospitality in Oxford. Despite hearing horror stories about Ethiopian food it wasn’t entirely awful and I didn’t even mind eating with the aid of a knife and fork. If you like the ‘outside of the box’ weird yet wonderful eateries then get yourself down to Magdalen road and try a slice of Ethiopia even if it’s just once!
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